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Moriches Inlet sand buildup reaches dangerous level, officials say

Heavy sand buildup from recent storms has narrowed Moriches Inlet to levels dangerous to navigation, prompting a call for federal help to expedite dredging the waterway.

The Coast Guard is advising against boat travel through the inlet.

“We have a notice to mariners saying the area is not safe,” said Lt. J.G. Shannon Andrew, chief of waterways management of Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound in New Haven, Connecticut. “It takes local knowledge. We advise against because it changes so drastically that if you’re not experienced, it’s not safe.”

Photos and descriptions of the inlet, which feeds Moriches Bay and sits between Smith Point County Park and Cupsogue County Park in Brookhaven and Southampton towns, show buildup of sand, or shoaling, that allows visitors to walk well into an area once the source of fast-moving waters.

“You can almost walk halfway into the inlet,” said Jay Scott, owner of Silly Lilly Fishing Station in East Moriches. “You’re going to need an amphibious boat to get through.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has asked the federal government to expedite dredging of the inlet. The Coast Guard said other dredging projects, including dredging where commercial ports exist, appear to be taking priority. Moriches Inlet is primarily a pleasure and recreational fishing boat thoroughfare.

Zeldin, in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Thursday urging the start of emergency dredging, said, “Failure to dredge these vital waterways will not only cause economic hardship and create a public safety crisis, but will bring about significant environmental issues.”

Scott said the problem isn’t limited to the inlet. Channels leading up to it around Gull and Bird islands have also seen extreme sand buildup, making navigation dangerous. “It’s terrible,” he said.

Andrew said the Coast Guard has held local meetings to discuss plans for alerting boaters of the hazards not only of the inlet but also in the bay.

“It’s always been historically bad,” she said. “Even dredging would be a short-term fix,” because the areas repeatedly shoal.

“We’re proposing to add new buoys and reroute traffic to keep boaters safe,” Andrew said.

A published warning by the Coast Guard says buoys are “no longer maintained” in Moriches Inlet. It also notes that mariners in areas of the bay “should be aware that aids to navigation in this area have been deemed unreliable due to shoaling.”

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